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Sidelined gymnast: Team’s win ‘bittersweet’

As the only alternate not called to compete for the U.S. men's team, David Durante had to watch from the wings on Tuesday as his team pulled off a surprise win. Still, "I feel very much a part of this team," he says.
/ Source: TODAY

On Tuesday, the U.S. Men’s Gymnastics Team did what many said was impossible: They won the bronze in Beijing without Paul and Morgan Hamm and in spite of their lack of Olympic experience. The medal ceremony was a celebration and a redemption that drew tears of joy throughout the National Indoor Stadium.

But for David Durante, the only alternate not called to compete for the team, the tears of joy were mixed with tears of frustration as he watched from the stands.

“I just wanted to be on the floor with those guys at that moment,” he said. “I feel very much a part of this team, but I wanted to be with them to share in that moment out on the floor and to have a medal put around my neck. But I knew that wasn’t how my Olympic story was going to be written.”

Durante, 28, has been on the national team for six years, longer than any of his teammates. In 2004, he was among the top 10 considered for the Olympic team. This year, he was named an alternate along with Alexander (Sasha) Artemev and Raj Bhavsar.

Raj, who was an alternate in 2004, was added to the roster when Paul Hamm dropped out of the competition; Artemev was called up when Morgan Hamm withdrew due to injury on Thursday.

That left Durante waiting alone in the wings.

“My heart goes out to that guy,” Bhavsar said. “I know what it’s like. It’s the toughest thing in the world, it really is.”

After sitting on the sidelines in Athens, Bhavsar said he went through the lowest time of his life. He said he felt the sport had let him down, and the negativity started to turn him into a person he didn’t recognize. But ultimately, Bhavsar said, the journey made him stronger, and he’s confident Durante will come out stronger for this as well.

“I found being an Olympian was not about the title, it was more about the heart; it’s about the spirit that you had put into the journey and it’s about the struggle,” Bhavsar said. “The word ‘Olympian’ — it’s not like ‘doctor’ or ‘mister’ or something like that. There’s always a story to be told with a much deeper meaning to it.”

Durante did not let go of his dream until the bitter end. After receiving the devastating news on Thursday that he had been passed up by the selection committee for a fourth time, he let out his emotions, going to bed in tears. The next morning, he woke up and returned to the gym.

“I feel like I have to be ready for the team no matter what,” Durante said. “The team is always the primary goal. You put the team before yourself in every situation.”

Wanting to be prepared in the unlikely event the team needed a third alternate, Durante trained on his own up until last night. Then today he sat in the stands and watched Artemev, the teammate who came to Beijing as an alternate, pull off an impressive showing on the pommel horse that helped clinch the bronze for Team USA.

“Sasha did a fantastic job today, and I’m very, very proud of him,” Durante said. “We’ve been through a lot together since we’ve been here and a little bit of me was with him today. I really felt I was competing with him.”

After watching the bronze medal being hung around his teammates’ necks, Durante officially announced his retirement.

“It’s definitely been bittersweet,” Durante said. “For 22 years I’ve put my heart and soul into this sport and I’ve loved every second of it. I definitely wouldn’t trade my experience for anything in the world.”